Culture is coercion. This is all we really need to understand about it – what we call ‘culture’ is a crude and senseless compulsion to see the world in a particular limited way.
Culture is simply a coercive field of influence into which we are born and within which we grow up. It is a field of influence that seeks to mould us into its pattern. This is by no means a subtle sort of a thing that we’re talking about here – the force which is responsible for ‘socializing’ us is as crude and brutal as a hammer blow. Culture is an unsubtle, unsophisticated sort of a thing – it is like a bully in the school-yard, or like a gang of tormentors who pick on you because you’re different.
Culture is a force which is absolutely relentless in fulfilling its objectives, which are that we should be the way it wants us to be and no other way. Culture is like a strong-willed man who is single-mindedly intent on getting his own way. Just as this sort of man hasn’t the slightest, remotest bit of interest in what you think about things, about what you might want to do, neither does culture. Culture couldn’t care less – it doesn’t give a damn and this is the long and the short of it.
The curious thing is why we never see culture as being like this. Or perhaps it isn’t so strange after all – the point being that we would only ever notice that culture is coercive if we stood up to it, if we didn’t cave in to it immediately. We would only see the fact that it is a bully if we had ‘a mind of our own’ with which to see it. If we are happy to let culture supply our mind for us then we certainly won’t see any such thing…
Because we automatically conform to the viewpoint that we are bullied into accepting – because we unreflectively agree to see things the way our society wants us to see them – there is no perception of the enormity of the force that we are up against, the force that is bent upon utterly extinguishing any individuality that we might have. The whole experience of being within the coercive field of culture is completely different when we acquiesce straightaway, when we acquiesce without even realizing that we are acquiescing. We succumb to the aggression without even spotting it; we align ourselves with the controlling force so automatically and so completely that we don’t even see that there is any aggression is going on.
In this case, if someone were to come up to us and tell us that culture is a coercive force we simply wouldn’t know what they are talking about. We simply wouldn’t understand them. We don’t see culture as being brutally oppressive. We don’t see it as being a blank force which seeks to deny our individuality because we have embraced it so unreservedly, so unquestioningly. We wholeheartedly identify with it – we see it as being the right way to be, the right way to do things. To the one who conforms straightaway to the stronger force, the one who conforms without asking any questions, any talking of culture being a ‘bully’ or ‘dictator’ falls on deaf ears.
So culture is a senseless coercive force-field that we enter into every time we walk down the street. It is a rule everyone has to obey. It is a lock-down. It is a curfew – it is martial law that has been declared under the pretext of some emergency and then never withdrawn. As a result of this curfew we go straight from A to B without ever looking from side to side. We stay in the spaces that have been allocated to us. We keep our heads down and our noses clean. As a result of martial law we knuckle down, we do what we’re supposed to, we stare straight ahead like soldiers on parade. We stay in a permanent mental crouch. We don’t extend ourselves – we stay carefully blank at all times. We observe a strict lack of curiosity with regard to what the security forces might be doing around us…
As a result of this curfew, as a result of this martial law, there is no extraneous activity going on in the streets. Only the legitimate stuff, only the stuff that has been specifically authorized by the emergency military government, gets to happen. Everything else is prohibited upon pain of death. Curiosity is prohibited upon pain of death. This is therefore a very truncated sort of a business, a distinctly minimalist state of affairs. Life has been curtailed, reduced to a very bare minimum level. Culture, in contrast to what we might have been given to think, causes a terrible uniformity, a terrible impoverishment. It wipes out everything apart from itself, just as a pathologically jealous and controlling man will try to wipe out any freedom that his wife or girlfriend might have, and impose his own terrible inner sterility upon her. This ‘enforced sterility’ is what controlling always comes down to.
Inward impoverishment always expresses itself through rigid, jealous control – like the ‘jealous God’ of the Old Testament. It seeks, without knowing it, to create the same type of bleak uniformity in the outside world that it suffers from in its own core. Instead of seeing this honestly, instead of witnessing the truth of the matter, it sees what it is doing (i.e. the forced imposition of its own terrible inner impoverishment on the outside world) as being an eminently good thing. It sees its way – which is, as we have said, nothing more than inward poverty or ‘mean-spiritedness’ – as being the only correct way to be, as being the legitimate way, the designated way, the approved and sanctified way. Its perverted vision (or ‘version’) of life becomes the rule, to be enforced at gunpoint. We all then have to pretend as hard as we can that ‘there is nothing else’, that ‘there is no other way’.
The core of inward impoverishment turns therefore its painful and unhappy situation into ‘the right and proper way to be’, and then goes on to see it as its duty to pass this cruelly restrictive mode of existence onto the world at large. In this way the ‘impoverished core’ avoids seeing (or directly experiencing) its own pain, and gets to pass this pain on to everyone else, under the guise of duty, under the guise of ‘doing the right thing’. By a devilishly clever twist of logic, it gets to afflict its own unbearable misery on others, and yet at the same time feel righteous about what it is doing. It gets to behave abominably, and yet feel that it should be awarded a medal!
This is true for a jealous and pathologically controlling man, and it is also true for culture as a whole. This is the totally ubiquitous ‘pain-displacement’ mechanism – a mechanism that is to be found everywhere. This is how unconscious inner impoverishment operates, how it functions in the world. This is the only way that it can function – by spreading like a virus, by passing itself on under the guise of ‘beneficial socialization’ (or ‘education’!), by infected everyone else and making them carriers too. This is culture in a nutshell.
Inasmuch as we never penetrate the thin veneer of self-validation which culture always carries around with itself, we will never get to see this side of the story. Instead, our particular extraordinarily limited and painfully narrow way of looking at the world, understanding the world, and being in the world will automatically appear to us as being the only possible way that a right-thinking person could ever look at the world, understand the world, be in the world. In the absence of genuine curiosity, the veneer of culture is automatically self-validating. It seems normal to us. It seems super-normal to us – it seems ‘as normal as normal could be’.
When we are in the passively-compliant mode (i.e. the ‘default’ or ‘unconscious’ mode) then the extraordinarily limited and meagre view of the world that we have been presented with by the coercive social system seems perfectly fine to us. We can’t imagine that things could be any other way. We can’t imagine how there could possibly be any more to life. We wouldn’t want there to be any more to life than what we already know and approve of – that would unsettle us, that would make us uncomfortable. Too much ‘more’ would threaten us, would scare us…
Whilst on the one hand the socially-conditioned world which we are forced at gunpoint to believe in seems just fine to us, and doesn’t seem to be lacking in anything to us, this is only true on a very superficial level. This is only the case on the very superficial level which is our conditioned or everyday consciousness. So we have the situation where there is a fragile, two-dimensional ‘veneer’ of everything being fine, everything being hunky-dory, when the actual reality is something quite different. Underneath the microscopically thin level of apparent ‘OK-ness’ is to be found a very different story. What underlies the fragile, reactive, easily-compromised comfort-zone of our everyday superficial consciousness is the thoroughly unpleasant toxic ‘grimness’ of denied pain…
And this is the socially-conditioned modality of being which we are bullied remorselessly into accepting, and for which we are expected to feel grateful!
Author: Nick Williams
Nick Williams works and writes in the field of mental health and is particularly interested in non-equilibrium states of consciousness, which are states of mind that cannot be validated by standardized experiments or by reference to any formal theoretical perspective.